The notion of bowsprits on caravela latina is an unusual one for me. On purely lateen rigged vessels, bowsprits should serve very little purpose. Yet, is it possible that some caravela latina carried them?
It was when I purchased a copy of Robert Marx's "The Voyage of the Niña II" in 1991 that I had my first view of such a rig. The Niña II, built by Carlos Etayo, was a hybrid, capable of carrying both square and lateen. Based upon the rather critical review given it by Jose Maria Martinez-Hidalgo in "Columbus' Ships", I, too, gave it very little consideration, though I did build a model of it.
I started giving this slightly more consideration in 2000, when examining a drawing found in "Columbus' Ships". On page 20, there is a drawing, an "artistic interpretation" by Joaquim Melo, of a Portuguese caravela latina with a bowsprit. This is based on an original located in the Convento da Madre de Deus in Lisbon. The caravel carries a bowsprit as well as an unusual spritsail that appears to be bent directly to the bowsprit.
I did an interpretation of the drawing, changing the spritsail to a more regular design. Otherwise, I tried to keep the details as close as possible to the original. This is where the problems arise.
Portuguese Caravel, interpretation by Joaquim Melo
R.Little interpretation, July 2000
On Melo's interpretation, there is a mainstay running from the bowsprit to the top of the main mast. Such an arrangement would interfere with the operation of the huge main yard. This isn't to say that it can't be done, but the way the caravel tacks would have to be considerably different.
A similar rig is to be found on a piece by artist Joseph Wheatley in "Historic Sail". His "A Caravela Latina of 1480" carries three masts and a bowsprit. The text states that the drawing is based upon models found in Lisbon and Faro, Portugal, but trying to pin down a prototype has proven difficult. In many ways, the design is similar to the d'Albertis Niña, but more closely resembles the replica built for the 1892 four hundredth anniversary. That vessel was considered an abject failure; it was a converted sail coaster, and was almost completely unsailable. This was due to the fact that the stern was shortened during the conversion, leaving the run of the hull too short.
Niña, 1892, Courtesy US Library of Congress
It seemed, therefore, that the subject of the model used by Wheatley was based on the 1892 replica, leaving the subject of bowsprits and caravela latinas a potential dead end.
It took researching another caravel interpretation for me to stumble upon yet another bowsprit equipped caravela latina. I was researching the d'Albertis caravel designs and decided to see how they influenced later designs. It was when I did a search for information by Adm. Julio Fernando Guillen y Tato, who designed a replica of the Santa Maria as a caravel, that I stumbled upon a page that showed a model of the Niña designed by Luis Segal and based upon the work of Guillen y Tato.
A little more searching, and the plans themselves were located online. These plans date back to 1945, and are really meant for a model. The rigging plan, though, makes sense, and the bowsprit figures into the plan logically. When I investigated further, I found that I had seen this design before, in an illustration by John Bachelor for the Time-Life book "The Explorers". As before, I assumed this was based upon the 1892 design.
This plan appears to be very similar to the caravela latina model used by Joseph Wheatley, though it also appears to be more a source of inspiration. If, indeed, the Segal design is based upon the work of Guillen y Tato, then we can at least rest assured that there is a fair degree of scholarship behind it, though his work was wrong about the Santa Maria (something he later admitted). I must admit, however, that I remain skeptical as to this caravela latina model's heritage; it is simply too similar to the 1892 vessel.
The Luis Segal (Guillen y Tato?) Niña, from
"Modelismo Navale", 1945
The second item was an order for a "calavera" by one Gracia Amat in 1465. Martin Malcolm Elbl, in his paper "The Portuguese Caravel And European Shipbuilding: Phases of Development and Diversity", has, on page 571, an appendix dedicated to the subject. There, based upon the information from the initial contract, is a line drawing of the vessel. It is rather caravel-like in appearance (one can't help but wonder if calavera was a transcription error; it means "skull"), and carries a bowsprit as well as two masts. According to Elbl, it may have carried a square sail (pg. 563), and was fairly small.
"Calavera" of Gracia Amat, 1465,
by Martin Elbl
This design was clearly an inspiration to Carlos Etayo and his work. In the line drawing, you can see how very closely it resembles Etayo's Niña II (and later Niña III).
So, we come full circle, back to Etayo.
Whether Etayo's design was faulty or not, it does appears that he had a basis for the mounting of a bowsprit. We can only speculate on how common a feature this was though it does show how diverse a category caravela was.